Review: The Dragonfly Queen by Ethos
by Michael Meigs
The Vortex production of The Dragonfly Queen is a triumph for costume designer Lauren Matesic and for makeup & hair designer Helen Hutka, who also appears onstage.
This is a manga world of eerie creatures locked in mortal combat. The program gives the background about the quest of Princess Mala. It includes a summary of the 2007 Vortex/Ethos production of The Dragonfly Princess, an outline of the 11 years elapsed since then in story time, and a synopsis of the events that you're about to witness.
Let me boil that synopsis down a bit further, avoiding most of the names, mostly of incomprehensible etymology. (If you need the names to complete your mental history, check the photo captions or click on the .pdf of the program at the end of this piece.)
-- Princess Mala, her mom, her androgynous lover and her two pole dancer soldiers torture and kill the captain of the ship they've captured.
-- A vampire squid menaces them. The squid provides a useful news report about the enemy. They blow it away with the power of their big Green Pearl.
-- They arrive at a deserted shore. An androgynous pink sorcerer provides a news report (the enemy was clumsy with their deadly Black Pearl and blew themselves up). Pink guy brings out his big Pink Pearl, waves it around and sends them all into sex ecstasy.
-- Mala's lover uses the big Green Pearl to zap Pink Guy. He promises to be good and to guide them to the enemy.
-- Buffeted by a storm, the ship reaches the enemy's reef. A slithery green magic creature takes over. The enemy queen, dressed in black, arrives with her deadly Black Pearl, a sort of magical pocket neutron bomb.
-- Green magic creature directs Princess Mala (with Green Pearl), pink sorcerer (with Pink Pearl) and funereal queen (with Black Pearl) into a circle of contesting powers. Fight ensues. Our protagonist Princess Mala breaks the enemy spells by invoking the name of her androgynous lover ("Joji"). She kills both of them.
-- Cue distant explosion. Green creature gloats that she has killed Mala's supporters. Wrong! Joji and Mom sneaked away! Mala kills green creature. Mala collapses into a coma.
-- "Look for part three in a few years."
Okay, so what did I really think about The Dragonfly Queen?
First, a disclaimer: I do not reject the genres of manga, animé, or graphic novels. I've seen more of the French work than the Japanese, but powerful stories can be told in virtually any medium, including these.
But you have to tell a story. Not just string together events. We simple human creatures have been looking for meaning since we crawled out of the trees. Theatre's essential function is to tell a story that provides meaning. It doesn't have to be pleasant, it doesn't have to mirror us directly, it doesn't have to be pretty.
But it does have to matter.
The Dragonfly Queen is a hollow, confused adolescent dream. Salvata develops no greater argument here than some seriously stunted symbolism. He provides a green life force, the pink incantation of the libido and the evil black of mass destruction. There's a war going on, but we don't understand the reason or the goals (maybe life = adversity?). Mother love is good. The name of a true lover is powerful. A protagonist without virtue will survive if endowed with disdain and determination. At a minimum, to keep the series going.
To my untutored ears, his music is mostly thrumming and the words are mostly chants. Lyrics are pedestrian. Dance and inventive choreography could have provided a dimension that reached toward meaning, but director Bonnie Cullum has the actors mostly stalking, gliding or posturing.
The cast take this whole thing with admirable seriousness and rise to the challenge. Betsy McCann as squid and green creature is as wicked as Smeagle and much more dazzling in appearance. Jonathan Itchon has a Kabuki conviction and strong presence. Elizabeth Rast as Princess Mala and Kristine Olson as her mom hold their own, even if we're not quite sure what is motivating them. Elizabeth Cooper as Joji is earnest and the go-go guards Helen Hutka and Shauna Danos are cute, especially when they get worked up by the smells of violence or sex.
These images from the production were taken by Kimberley Mead, whose work proves that she's just as impressive a wizard as any of the characters in the play.
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